A federal judge declined Friday to release “Dreamer” Daniel Ramirez Medina, picked up in Des Moines last week. His lawyers and the government give vastly differing accounts of who he is and the details surrounding his arrest and detention.
Lawyers for detained “Dreamer” Daniel Ramirez Medina went to court Friday seeking his immediate release and calling his arrest in a Des Moines apartment unconstitutional. A federal magistrate ruled he wasn’t empowered to free Ramirez before an immigration judge gets a chance to weigh in.
But in a case that he said had far-reaching implications about federal policy regarding Dreamers, and which has drawn the concern of the Mexican government and immigration activists nationwide, Chief Magistrate Judge James Donohue took the unusual step of requiring that a bond hearing in immigration court be held within a week.
U.S. District Court does not usually exercise authority over the immigration-court system.
Lawyers and supporters of Ramirez said they were disappointed that the 23-year-old, accused of gang association, would not be freed. But they took heart in the call for an expedited schedule.
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“The faster we can resolve this, the better for Daniel and his family and the 750,000 Dreamers living in limbo,” said Seattle Councilmember M. Lorena González, who was in the courtroom. Seattle’s Mexican Consul Roberto Dondisch, who sent a letter to the judge citing “unnecessary alarm and concern among the Mexican community in the U.S.,” also was there.
If immigration court does not schedule a bond hearing in a week, Donohue said Ramirez’s attorneys could come back to his courtroom — an important safeguard, said one of the lawyers, Mark Rosenbaum of Los Angeles.
The magistrate also set a briefing schedule to consider whether federal court has jurisdiction to consider the merits of the case. The government has argued that it doesn’t, and that Ramirez’s removal proceedings belong only in immigration court.
After the hearing on the courthouse steps, Ramirez’s attorneys talked to reporters.
“Daniel is just like me,” said Luis Cortes Romero, a Kent-based attorney who is himself a Dreamer.
A chorus of “Free Daniel now” erupted from protesters who surged onto the courthouse steps, echoing a previous rally supporting Ramirez.
In another development, Ramirez’s attorneys on Thursday evening said a note from Ramirez, who is being held at the Northwest Detention Center, was altered to make it look like he was admitting gang membership.
Rosenbaum said the alleged note tampering was “one of the most serious examples of government misconduct” he has seen in 40 years of practice.
Rose Richeson, a spokeswoman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) declined to comment.
The accusation about the note is the latest controversy in a case marked by contradictions and speculation over what it may reveal about President Donald Trump’s immigration policies.
In the past couple of days, the government and attorneys for Ramirez, as well as the young man himself, have given vastly different versions of who he is and what he said under questioning.
The note, the tattoo
Briefs submitted by both sides fleshed out varying accounts of what happened since agents took Ramirez into custody.
Ramirez, the father of a 3-year-old son, was brought illegally to this country when he was about 7 and later given authorization to live and work here under President Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. ICE agents arrested him Feb. 10, accusing him of being a gang member, which they said voided his DACA status.
Ramirez’s lawyers, in their brief and in a conference call with news reporters, said the young man submitted a note to detention officials, seeking to get out of a gang unit he had been placed in.
According to the lawyers, the note, as written, began: “I came in and the officers said I have gang affiliation … so I wear an orange uniform.”
The first part of the note was erased, according to his lawyers, so that it began: “I have gang affiliation …”
Altered or not, the note still ended with him repeating that he was not affiliated with gangs.
ICE agents arrested Ramirez around 8:30 a.m. last Friday. They were not targeting the 23-year-old but his father, who has been deported eight times and convicted of narcotics trafficking, the government said.
While there, agents found Ramirez sleeping on the living-room floor, according to the government brief. Asked by an agent if he had ever been arrested, Ramirez said “yes,” the brief said.
At that point, agents arrested him.
Later, during an interview at an ICE holding facility, agents asked Ramirez if he had been involved in gang activity.
“No, not no more,” said Ramirez, according to the brief.
The agents pressed on, interested in what one called in his report a “gang tattoo.” On Ramirez’s left arm, it read “La Paz BCS.”
At that point, the agent’s report said, Ramirez added that he “used to hang out with the Sureno’s in California,” fled that state to escape gangs, yet “still hangs out with the Paizas in Washington state.”
The agent concluded that Ramirez associated with gangs and would no longer qualify for DACA. He was taken to the detention center in Tacoma.
“You cannot take me”
A declaration by Ramirez, filed with his lawyers’ brief, differs in details big and small from the government’s account. It said he was sleeping on a couch, not the floor in the apartment when agents found him, and he was handcuffed immediately after saying that he had been born in Mexico. The cuffs stayed on, Ramirez said, after he told them “I have a work permit. You cannot take me.”
Then, they started asking him about gang affiliation.
“It felt like forever,” he said in the declaration. “I felt an intense amount of pressure, like if I did not give them something, they would not stop. So, I told them that I did nothing more than hang out with a few people who may have been Sureños, but that since I became an adult I have not spoken with any of those people.”
Still, he said in his declaration, they zeroed in on his tattoo, which signified not a gang but the place of his birth: La Paz, the capital city of Baja California Sur (or BCS).
When agents said they were taking him to the detention center, he said he wanted to be with “paisas” — a colloquial term for Mexicans.
Describing his background in the declaration, he said he picked oranges in California before moving to Washington about a month ago, looking for a better job to provide for his son.
His mother and siblings also submitted declarations, describing Ramirez as a shy, chubby homebody who had been bullied as a child and dropped out of school to help support his family when his mom was having financial problems.
Even as reports circulate about a draft memo in the Trump administration that proposed using the National Guard to round up unauthorized immigrants in certain states — though the White House strongly asserted there is no plan to do so — nobody knows whether the Ramirez case signifies anything about Trump’s plans for Dreamers.
Trump promised during the campaign to end the DACA program, and when he was elected, many Dreamers feared the president would seek to deport them.
One-off or new policy?
In a news conference Thursday, Trump called DACA “a very, very difficult subject for me … It’s one of the most difficult subjects I have because you have these incredible kids.”
His administration continues to approve new applications and renew existing DACA permits, noted Cortes Romero.
“As far as we know, there hasn’t been a situation like this,” said the lawyer, adding that he was inclined to believe it was “just a one-time circumstance.”
Jorge Barón, executive director of the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, isn’t so sure. “I do think this kind of situation would not have happened under Obama,” he said.
He said he worried that an under-scrutinized executive order issued by Trump during his first week in office sent a signal to immigration officers to step up their enforcement efforts — and gave them broad discretion about whom to target. That order, which contained more-widely publicized provisions aimed at punishing “sanctuary cities” such as Seattle, outlined new priorities for immigration enforcement.
They included deporting undocumented immigrants charged with any criminal offense, convicted or not. The order also licenses immigration officers to remove anyone who, in their judgment, poses a risk to public safety or national security.
“That could be anything,” said Barón, saying broad leeway invites abuse.
The Department of Homeland Security has not linked Ramirez’s arrest to Trump’s order, however. In a statement, the agency pointed to longstanding DACA guidelines warning that participation can be terminated at any time, and can be denied to those involved in crime or gangs.
Since 2012, the statement said, 1,500 Dreamers have had their permits revoked for such reasons.